World Wildlife Day: Meet the most endangered species in Wales

To mark World Wildlife Day, we look at some of the rare and endangered species in Wales and where you can find them.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Photograph: Natural England)

The United Nations observes March 3 as World Wildlife Day to celebrate and recognise the world’s wild animals. Each year, they come up with a new theme to raise awareness. 

This year, the theme is “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”, which aims to highlight some of the most critically endangered species of flora and fauna. 

Wales is home to an incredible range of biodiversity and wildlife, but as a consequence of human encroachment and neglect, some of them are on the brink of disappearing unless steps are taken to conserve them.

But even though they may be rare to find, if you’re in Wales you are perfectly placed to don your safari hats and grab your binoculars for a weekend getaway. We take a look at seven species that you might not want to miss out on.

High brown fritillary

Photograph: Tatianna Sims

Britain’s most threatened butterfly, the High Brown Fritillary has lost more than 85% of its population since 1970. Termed as one of the most difficult butterflies to observe, they are known to be very picky when it comes to breeding, being highly dependent on warm climates and rich violets. Their distinct row of brown spots with hues of silvers make them a sight to behold, and can be found locally centred on the Alun Valley on the western side of the Vale of Glamorgan.

Red squirrel

Photograph: hedera.baltica

Red squirrels face the risk of extinction due to the transmission of the deadly squirrelpox virus. Cousins to beavers, these arboreals live on coniferous trees.  Solitary in nature, they feast on hazelnuts and shoots of flowers. Deep in the woodlands of Anglesey, you might find their bushy tails wrapped around their bodies as blankets on tall trees, in the winter.

Shrill carder bee

Photograph: Back from the Brink

One of the rarest bumblebee to exist in the UK, the Shrill carder bee gets its name from the shrilly high-pitched buzz produced by the queens. They are easy to spot with their greyish-green hue, a black band around their belly, and a reddish-orange tail. Restricted to a handful of lcoations in Wales, they can be found in the Somerset Levels, Gwent Levels and Pembrokeshire,as well as along the Glamorgan coast and Thames corridor. 

Pine Martens

Photograph: Caroline Legg

Perilously close to extinction in Wales, these mammal-eaters live in the woodlands and spend most of their time on pine trees. Owing to deforestation, there has been a dramatic decline of the species. These chestnut-coloured creatures have a yellow bib, and weigh no more than two kilos. Blind at birth, they develop eyesight after a few months. If you were to go on a trek to Snowdonia, you’d be sure to spot a pine marten, or they’re now endangered, and listed as a priority species that must be conserved. 


Photograph: Andrew

You might think that a glossy black crow with a long red bill and bright red legs is easy to spot. These crows, also known as chough are easily distinguishable but rare to spot. Their flight is acrobatic with a loud, distinct ‘chee-ow’ call. In the 17th century, choughs were commonly known as the Crow of Cornwall, as legend has it that the soul of King Arthur departed in the form of a chough. However, this symbolism also led to its extensive hunting in the 18th century. The UK has just a few hundred pairs, with a few in the RSPB’s South Stack Cliffs, in North Wales.

Eurasian Otters

Photograph: Rudi Verspoor

Mysterious, solitary and charming, otters are one of the seminal treasures of Wales. These freshwater-dwelling animals almost went extinct in the 1950s and 60s due to polluted river waters. But after sustained conservation efforts, otters started making a comeback. Eurasian otters are known for their supreme swimming skills, aided by their webbed feet and long tail, while their sensitive whiskers and sharp eyes help them in finding their prey. You have a good probability of spotting them in early mornings in Welsh rivers like the Usk, Taff and Wye.

Conger Eels

Photograph: Ben Thompson

Extremely common in the South and West Welsh coasts, conger eels are the heaviest eels in the world. They are a wholly marine species that are nocturnal and usually feed on seabed creatures. They are scaleless and greyish-black in colour. The powerful creatures can grow up to 1.8 metres (six feet) and are known to be aggressive towards humans, often attacking them. Due to excessive fishing, congers’ population has decreased slightly, just like their river counterparts. They are most extensively found in the south-west coast of Wales, especially the Severn Estuary.

Leatherback Turtle

Photograph: Mitchel Lensink

Touted as the largest turtles in the world, the leatherback sea turtle are known for their tough rubbery skin and have existed in their current form since the age of the dinosaurs. Once the eggs hatch, the baby turtles are left to make their way to the sea alone, as they lay their eggs on beaches. The particular adaptations of these animals allow them to survive in colder waters, which means they are able to dive to great depths in order to hunt deep sea jellyfish. Leatherbacks have lost numbers due to by-catch. Other factors such as increased storms, rising sea levels, and boat strikes have also contributed to their decline which has made them an endangered species.


Photograph: Sierra NiCole Narvaeth

Hedghogs are nocturnal creatures that hibernate during the winter months in order to conserve energy. According to the latest data from the Mammals Trust UK (MTUK), hedgehog numbers have declined by over 28% in Wales between 2010 and 2018, further stating that by 2025, hedgehogs could be extinct as a species if they continue to decline at that rate. Usually, any hedgehog out during the day may probably be in trouble and will need to be picked up and taken to a wildlife rescue centre.